My Take

Opinion polls a double-edged sword as Hong Kong mulls electoral reforms

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 1:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 5:52pm

The way the media has been reporting on continuous university polling of public opinion on the electoral reform package makes it sound like a horse race at Happy Valley between the two camps.

In late April, the poll had almost one in two supporting the package, an 8 percentage points lead over those who opposed it. This week, the difference has narrowed to within 3 percentage points. The support rate is 42.5 per cent, or the lowest in 11 recent polls, while the opposition rate is 39.5 per cent.

Government officials from the chief executive down have hinted the pan-democrats should follow the polls. You people claim to be democrats, they imply, so you must listen to public opinion, and the polls are telling you which way to vote. Does it mean lawmakers should vote according to the latest poll results, then? Hardly!

If it's so easy, we don't need politicians, only pollsters. First, there is nothing wrong with being in the minority. Second, it's meaningless at this point to claim Hong Kong people want to accept or reject the reform package.

We are deeply divided and there are substantial numbers of people in both camps. The polls alone are not enough to help a lawmaker decide to vote for or against the package. They may be useful, though, as a cover to hide under or as propaganda. But they cut both ways and officials should be careful lest they hurt themselves when the polls turn against them.

If we are honest, we should let the government's reform package stand or fall on its own merits. The polls are really proving to be a distraction and even an irrelevance.

The real poll, the one that really matters, is the 2016 Legislative Council election, as the Civic Party's Dennis Kwok rightly pointed out yesterday. If the pan-dems reject the package, as most people expect them to do, they must face the judgment of the people next year. But I suspect they won't do too badly. In any case, it's not a foregone conclusion they would be punished at the 2016 poll.

If Hong Kong becomes ungovernable without election reforms as people from both sides have warned, then surely the government will hurt a lot more than those in opposition. If you were a pan-dem, why would you make life easy for the government by voting for a package you couldn't stomach in the first place?